Text copyright © 2014 by Beau Johnston

The outbreak started on Saturday, 2nd November 2019; during Sydney's annual Zombie Horde Parade. The event itself was just some harmless fun. Nothing more than an opportunity for a large group of like-minded folk to dress up like zombies, and shuffle through the city for an hour or two. For the rest of us, it was an inoffensive distraction from the endless sea of suit-wearing strangers, who were too engrossed in the mundane details of their day-to-day existence to notice the details of the world around them.

It was a typical spring morning in the city. Summer was rapidly approaching, but not quite here yet. A gentle breeze blew in from the ocean, just enough to cool the air and keep things from getting stuffy. It was midmorning, and like many other pedestrians, I sipped from my cardboard cup of takeaway coffee, while trying to whittle down my 'To Do' list before the weekend came to its usual rapid halt. Next item on the list was "buy a suit for my cousin's wedding". I briefly wondered if I could get away with renting one. Nah, for Ben I'll do it. Ben and I spent a lot of time together as kids, and have been close friends ever since. Also, I really like his fiancée Rebecca. The two of them are perfectly matched.

The wedding was scheduled to take place in two weeks time, in a quaint country church at Gloucester. Mum and Dad wouldn't have too far to travel; it's only an hour's drive from their house. This was the only family gathering I was going to because I wanted to be there. Other than my parents and Ben, we were a "weddings, christenings and funerals" type of family. The rest of us had no burning desire to see each other.

As I made my way westward along St James Road, I heard the parade come shuffling out of Hyde Park, and like many other pedestrians I stopped to watch. The timing was a little strange, because the parade wasn't due to commence until 12:00pm. The unscheduled early start was probably a publicity stunt. It looked like the participants were playing-up the "would a horde of zombies obey a schedule" angle. As the roads hadn't been blocked off yet, traffic ground to an immediate halt. Many of the motorists vented their frustration by blasting their horns. The problem was exacerbated by the walkers not obeying the crossing lights. It was a little irresponsible, but the mob was already shuffling. There were hundreds of them, and like cattle, once this many bodies start traveling, it's damn difficult to stop or redirect them without people getting trampled on.

Their costumes had varying levels of realism. Some participants had obviously purchased their costume from a chain-store on the way to the parade. Surprisingly, many of the walkers had gone to a lot of trouble to make their costumes look realistic. Their clothes didn't appear to be cheap garments purchased for the sole purpose of being sacrificed for today's event. Their clothing actually looked lived in, and genuinely filthy. Their make-up was good too; their skin looked like it was mottled with grime and dirt. Their hair wasn't just messy and held in place with hair gel. I have no idea what they used, but their hair was matted into greasy, tangled clumps. The gore splattered on their clothes could be easily be mistaken for a mix of fresh and stale blood. Regardless of the quality of their costumes, all of the participants had pretty gruesome looking injuries. Homeless people and early morning joggers seemed to be a common theme that ran through the crowd.

The parade didn't continue along the pre-planned route as anticipated. Instead, the marchers started to disperse among the pedestrians and onlookers. One of the parade's participants shambled toward me with a half-focused, hungry stare; he'd even gone to the trouble of putting in some of those pale-eyed "zombie" contact lenses. He opened his mouth and emitted a low, eerie groan while he shuffled. He reached out for me, slamming his hands down on my shoulders. It was a little rough coming from a complete stranger, but I was willing to play along. Firmly grabbing my shoulders he gave me a bit of a shake. Then it got weird. He snapped his mouth at my left ear; then he tried to bite my cheek. I quickly jerked my head away from his mouth. This had gone far enough. I was happy to play along, but this guy had crossed the line.

I smashed the heels of my palms into his chest and yelled "Back off!".

The impact caused him to stumble backward several paces. I'd made it clear that I wasn't interested in playing his game. Without skipping a beat, he shambled straight back at me. There was something seriously wrong with this guy, he was dangerous. I don't know if he was on drugs, had a mental problem, or was just a trouble-maker who thought he could use the parade as an excuse to dress up and have a little fun roughing up random strangers. I had to put this guy down fast. As my self-defence instructor used to say; "If they can't breathe, they can't fight".

As he staggered toward me I smashed a solid front kick into his solar-plexus. The force of the blow doubled him over. Instead of collapsing on the ground, unable to breathe, he stood straight back up and snarled. It was unbelievable. The kick was on target, and had enough power behind it to break several of his ribs, or at least wind him. Whatever this guy was on, it made him impervious to pain. He lunged again, snapping at me like a rabid dog. I threw a quick left hook into his cheek then slammed a heavy right uppercut into his jaw. He lost his footing and tripped over the edge of the gutter, falling backwards. I heard a loud, sickening "crack" as his skull hit the road. That noise told me he wasn't getting back up; and I was about to find myself in a lot of trouble.

I looked around for a witness to the altercation and realised that getting arrested was the least of my problems. Everyone around me was participating in the same dance. The screams and yells of the riot were almost overwhelming. The noise was now so loud that it was nearly impossible to understand what people around me were saying. My fellow pedestrians, willing or otherwise, were brawling with these freaks. Some pedestrians were coping well with the situation; others were getting badly mauled. Blood spurted from arterial wounds; rapidly creating large, red pools around their fallen owners. These lunatics were actually trying to eat the people they were assaulting. Sure, every city has its undesirables; but this was bizarre.

I turned to my right, certain the person next to me wouldn't object to some help. He was in his eighties, and flat on his back. One of those freaks had him pinned to the ground, straddling the old-timer's hips with his legs and pinning his shoulders to the ground with his hands. The old guy bled profusely from the bite marks on his forearms. His shirtsleeves were torn and soaked with his blood. It looked like he'd been bitten on his face and neck as well, but there was so much blood I couldn't tell how bad his wounds were. He was keeping his attacker's mouth from getting any closer by holding both arms out straight, and forming a barrier with his walking stick across his attacker's chest. He was slowly losing the fight. Blood loss and old age were not his allies. His arms shuddered with the rapid onset of exhaustion, while the freak's viciously snapping mouth inched closer to his face.

I figured the easiest way to get the aggressor to let go was to wind him with a roundhouse kick to the ribs. I took a step backward and kicked my right foot into his ribs, just under his left arm. The old-timer's arms buckled just before my boot hit its target, putting the freak's head where his ribs had been a moment ago. My foot connected with the left side of his jaw. The kick broke his neck, causing his head to flop grotesquely over his right shoulder. I nearly lost my breakfast. To make things worse; he either didn't notice, or didn't care that his neck was broken; he just kept trying to bite his victim.

Unfortunately, the freak still had his victim's shirt held tightly in his grasp. None of this made sense. Even the deranged can't keep fighting with such a serious injury. I tried several different grappling techniques to make him let go of his victim's shirt, but none of them had any effect. Unable to break his grip using civilised methods, I grabbed both of the freak's hands in mine and bent his thumbs backward. The force of the rotation was guaranteed to either break his grip; or break his thumbs. I twisted them enough to make him lose his grip, but it did nothing. Just a little more pressure and "snap"; both of his thumbs broke like twigs. Even without the use of his thumbs the freak still wouldn't relinquish his grip completely. I stepped behind the two combatants on the ground and grabbed two handfuls of the aggressor's shirt, dragging him off of his victim. I was going to leave him next to the idiot who attacked me; but my original attacker wasn't there anymore. I suppose one of his mates must have dragged him out of harm's way.

When I turned back to help the old timer onto his feet, it was too late. He'd bled out through the wound in his neck. He might have been old, but he was smart enough to use his walking stick as a weapon. Since he had no further use for his cane, I figured he wouldn't mind if I used it. I retrieved the stick and held it in both hands while looking for an exit from this senseless violence.

As I turned around I nearly ran into a new set of gnashing teeth that had snuck up behind me. Again, my mind flashed back to my instructor's advice "Put him down hard and fast, son. You won't know if he has a concealed knife until he sticks it in your belly, and then it's too late".

Acting on instinct I rammed the tip of the walking stick deep into my attacker's stomach, just like a bayonet thrust. The impact doubled him over. I pushed my advantage and swung the cane like a golf club, up into his chin; breaking his jaw and knocking out several teeth. His arms flailed wildly as he staggered backwards, tumbling over the body of a fallen pedestrian.

What started out as an impromptu pub-brawl had escalated into a full scale riot. Garbage cans were being thrown through the air, or being used as make-shift battering rams. Park benches had been disassembled and the individual slats were being thrown as very heavy and dangerously inaccurate javelins. Mundane items like bags of fruit were being swung through the air, hurting friend and enemy alike. Some of the pedestrians had obviously attended martial arts or self-defence classes, but none of their kicks or punches were having the expected results. Both sides were taking serious injuries, but the freaks just kept getting back up, unperturbed by what was happening to them. What I thought was an isolated act of cannibalism; was being repeated across the entire scene. The compulsion to stop and eat their victims was the only thing keeping these lunatics from causing further damage.

This situation was way too serious to have gone unnoticed by local law enforcement; there were three police stations within two minutes' drive of Hyde Park. In the distance I could hear sirens, lots of sirens, but they seemed to have come to a stop several blocks away and didn't appear to be getting any closer. The sound came from all directions, as though the police were forming a perimeter around the central business district, instead of closing in on it. As useful as that might be for preventing fugitives from fleeing the scene, we needed immediate help.

For now, it appeared that we were on our own. Most of us were willing to help the person standing next to us, but things were getting desperate. I decided it was time to retreat to safety and leave this mess to the professionals. I wasn't the only one to have this idea. Those who could were now fleeing the area. Most of them either ran west along Market Street; or south, straight through the swarm of bodies in Hyde Park.

I took a moment or two to assess the situation. Those things came from the direction of St James Station, and logic dictates "travel in the direction of least resistance", so I turned to the north and I sprinted along Macquarie Street to Circular Quay. Buildings and other familiar landmarks became a blur as I ran past them. As I slowed to cross the road at Hunter Street, I heard several pairs of feet pounding the footpath behind me. I couldn't believe those freaks were chasing me. I quickly checked over my shoulder to see how many of them I had to contend with. It was a group of six young women. Bloodied, bruised and terrified. Terrified? Those things didn't seem to outwardly display any emotion other than aggression. I quickly realised that these were normal people, and just like myself, were only trying to escape the violence. They slowed down to walking pace, giving me fearful and suspicious looks. Without saying a word they turned west onto Hunter Street and continued running.

The city blocks flew by. My legs burned with the strain of the constant effort. My lungs drew breath in ragged gasps. Nearly at Circular Quay I cut west onto Albert Street, then north onto Alfred Street and kept running. With Wharf Number 3 in sight I manage to force my legs to keep going just that bit further. Never give up just before the finish line.

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